President Bush said he tried to be “a messenger” of God’s will in deciding to go to war with Iraq but did not use God to justify the war, according to a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

In an interview Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Woodward, an editor at the Washington Post, described his interview with Bush in December, when the president talked about the day months earlier that he gave the order to go to war. Afterward, the president said he walked alone around the circle behind the White House.

“As I walked around the circle, I prayed that our troops be safe, be protected by the Almighty,” Bush told Woodward. “Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord’s will. I’m surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case, I pray that I be as good a messenger of his will as possible. And then, of course, I pray for forgiveness.”

Woodward said the president became defensive when he questioned whether Bush asked his father for advice about going to war. “Then he said something that really struck me. He said of his father, ‘He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength.’ And then he said, ‘There’s a higher Father that I appeal to.'”

While Bush has insisted repeatedly that the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq is against terrorism and not a crusade against Islam, he has on occasion invoked religious language to justify the cause for going to war.

At last week’s nationally televised news conference, Bush said: “I … have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country’s gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the Earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.”

Woodward, who as a young journalist in the 1970s broke the story on the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Nixon, calls his new book, Plan of Attack, the first detailed behind-the-scenes look at how and why the president decided to wage war with Iraq. He says he wrote the book based on interviews with 75 decision makers, including Bush himself. Most spoke with Woodward on background, meaning they are not quoted with attribution.

In the book, Woodward says that President Bush secretly began drawing up a war plan against Iraq less than two months after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan, and that he was so concerned with backlash that he didn’t tell everyone on his security team about the plan, according to the Associated Press. White House officials have denied claims in other books that they were preoccupied with Iraq to the neglect of the terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

The Washington Post said Saturday that Bush met with Army Gen. Tommy Franks and his war cabinet throughout 2002 to plan the U.S. attack on Iraq, while he and administration spokesmen were claiming to be pursuing a diplomatic solution.

Woodward says that a Saudi ambassador learned of the decision to attack Iraq before Bush told his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and that Bush made the final decision in early January 2003 instead of in March.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice disputed both assertions. She said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Woodward is “simply not right.” While the president expressed frustration with U.N. weapon inspections in Iraq at his ranch in Texas in January, the final determination to go to war didn’t come until two months later, she said.

Rice also disputed Woodward’s report that Vice President Dick Cheney; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, showed Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a secret war map two days before Bush briefed Powell.

“I just can’t let this impression stand,” Rice said Sunday. “It’s just not the proper impression that somehow Prince Bandar was in the know in the way that Secretary Powell was not. It’s just not right. Secretary Powell had been privy to all of this. He knew what the war plan was.”

In addition to the “60 Minutes” interview, Woodward’s book is being launched with a series of five articles adapted from chapters this week in the Washington Post.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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